CMHC or PSC: A look at these two counseling specialties

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Female Counselor With Short Brown Hair and Glasses Smiling at the Client

Most students who enter an online graduate program such as a Master of Arts in Counseling know what they want to do professionally. Students want to better understand how human emotions work or originate and what leads to certain behaviors. They want to learn skills, tools and strategies to deploy in sessions. Above all, they want to help clients find relief, process feelings, express themselves and lead more enjoyable lives.

However, not all students who enroll may know exactly what their professional life will look like. Counselors can be found in a number of different work settings, including the education system, private practice, corporate offices and the public sector. There are also specializations students may encounter while in the program that can spark an interest or passion. In other words, while a student may easily decide to pursue a master’s in counseling, finding the right program to shape their educational experience and career preparation may be a more nuanced choice.

For many, the option boils down to becoming a Clinical Mental Health Counselor (CMHC) or a Professional School Counselor (PSC). Both routes offer students a rewarding pathway to fulfilling and meaningful work as a counselor, as well as varied career options upon graduating. When looking for the right online MAC, students may want to seek out an online counseling degree with these tracks. Here’s a closer look at what being a CMHC or PSC entails.

Adult counseling child

What does a CMHC do?

A Clinical Mental Health Counselor is trained to perform in a wide variety of settings and responsibilities related to advising and guiding clients. As licensed professionals trained in the arts and sciences of clinical mental health counseling, CMHCs are likely to see a diverse client population who themselves present a broad range of complications and personal needs. Some of those client groups, and how counselors help them, include:

  • Clients with addiction issues: Becoming a substance abuse counselor allows professionals to assist individuals with addiction troubles, either in one-on-one sessions or in a group.
  • Families and couples: All marriages and families encounter obstacles or troublesome dynamics from time to time, and it’s CMHCs they turn to when they need to resolve conflict or find ways to communicate better.
  • Clients in grief or crisis: When urgent or tragic matters arise, those affected can always turn to professional counselors to help navigate trauma or make sense of things.
  • Veterans: Veterans returning from combat or service may need help adjusting to daily life. Counselors can aid these clients in addressing various physical, emotional and mental health issues.

In addition to the CMHC track preparing students for these career realities, it also gets them ready to work in various settings, including:

  • Outpatient and residential care centers
  • Social and human service agencies
  • Nonprofit organizations or governmental agencies (VA clinics)
  • Hospitals and health systems
  • Private corporations (employee assistance programs) and private practice

What kind of classes does a CMHC student take?

An online Master of Arts in Counseling program helps shape Clinical Mental Health Counselors by featuring curricula that cover:

  • CMHC-specific courses that teach students about the role of counselors as agents of change and client advocates. This also includes intros to administration, finance and accountability within mental health organizations.
  • Brain-based interventions, in which students study brain function and counseling interventions that help clients learn to better manage emotions and behaviors.
  • Counseling and the dynamics of aging, where students learn how the aging global population may affect care needs. They also become familiar with gerontological counseling strategies.

What does a PSC do?

Comparably, while Professional School Counselors may see some overlap with CMHCs in their core responsibilities (i.e. helping clients process emotions, cope or express themselves), PSCs are most easily differentiated by the client populations they serve.

Professional School Counselors most often interact with children or teens. At various points, they may offer career and school guidance, or help kids who come from troubled households or have classroom behavioral problems.

Some of the positions in which PSCs often find employment include:

  • College advisor: University- or college-based counselors help students who experience anything from trouble with studies, indecision on selecting a major or homesickness.
  • Guidance counselor: These professionals often help elementary, middle and high school students work through academic challenges or the pains of growing up.
  • College readiness counselor: Preparing for college is a big step in any teen’s life, and college readiness counselors help students select target schools and work on applications.

PSCs operate in diverse workplaces, including:

  • K-12 schools (both private and public)
  • Universities and community colleges
  • Career centers
  • Education-based corporations or nonprofits
  • State or federal departments of education

What kind of courses do PSCs take?

It’s worth noting again that while PSCs and CMHCs take many shared courses — whether practicums in neurocounseling, human growth and development, or psychodiagnostics and psychotherapy — there are classes specific to the Professional School Counselor track, like:

  • Special education law, which introduces counselors to the regulations, protections and laws that apply to working with children who have developmental or physical disabilities.
  • School for non-teachers, which is a combined survey and field observation experience for non-teachers who want to become certified to work in schools.

How Bradley University can help

These two counseling specialty tracks can help students align their educational experience to prepare them as well as possible for the professional world. That’s why Bradley University offers both a Clinical Mental Health Counselor and Professional School Counselor specialization in our graduate online counseling degree program. Students of our online Master of Arts in Counseling can enter either track and tailor their degree to match their personal ambitions and career goals.

Contact an enrollment advisor today for more information about the program, curricula and admissions.

Recommended Readings:

A career in counseling: A closer look at areas of specialization

Five reasons to pursue a master’s degree in counseling online


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